Problems Shape Solutions
"The intent of selling is to protect the customer from what if, not what is" says Rob Joles. I would add also to find out what is not. Most sales people focus on what could be (it is all about their product and solution) and invariably they get lukewarm "whatever" responses.
Prospects do not see reality, rather they pre-perceive it. Usually all they see is memory, the past, their beliefs and expectations. That is why it is so important when you are doing problem shooting to go very deep into their past problems.
In the world of selling the customer's past (problems) shapes their future (solution). "Too many sales people (95%) stop at the first indication of a problem," says Brian Neale.
Typically corporate resolution of problems are ultimately done for pure selfish reasons by your customer. To see the truth, to see reality, and to see things accurately from your customer's personal perspective you have to figure out their emotional investment in change, and their own personal stake. Stop selling to a faceless, corporate entity. Who you really are selling to are individuals and people who happen to work for corporations.
All problems are significant or insignificant relative to other problems. Find out what their other problems are, especially if it does not relate specifically to your application. Once you find out what is broken, you need to break it again to get your customer's personal perspective. In other words, you need to reverse tracks to revisit the problem, and break it down so the customer can reevaluate and reexperience it for the significance of its cost, impact, negative consequences and actionability.
Remember, every sale has basic obstacles; no problem, no means, no authority, no urgency, poor timing and fierce competing initiatives vying for limited resources.
"I respect faith, but doubt is what gives you an education," said W. Mizner. Be a doubting Thomas. Act as if you were from Missouri (show me state). Do not take anything at face value. This is where you really bring value to the table. Question customer's problems as to whether they are really actionable. Cover all your bases and theirs. Make sure you know what they have to gain or lose.
"One half of knowing what you want is knowing what you must be willing to give up before you get it," said Sidney Howard. Customers frequently claim they want to get rid of their problems, but in fact, they would not know how to live otherwise.
Their daily struggle is an elixir that puts them in their comfort zone. They are comfortably uncomfortable, and often no amount of facts and figures, or gentle arm twisting will get them to see the light.
Conventional sales people are avid followers of the cult of positive thinking; always be positive, energized, excited, optimistic and always look at things from the bright side. This is a great way to live your life, do not get me wrong. There is definitely a time and place for it in sales, especially when you have to deal with all the ups and downs.
However, when energized and optimistic selling runs constantly through your veins, it is very hard to transition from always looking at things from a positive angle, to now looking and dwelling on customer's problems, fears, insecurities and doubts.
The irony is for a customer to have a positive buying experience you have to help them look at the negatives of their situation. If you are going to be a trusted and credible advisor you are going to have to find a delicate balance of the two.